Destination Showcase: Ben Cathro Rides Aberdeenshire

Sep 28, 2021
by Ross Bell  

Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Scotland's up and coming destination

Video: Alfie Marsh
Photography and Words: Ross Bell
Riders: Ben Cathro, Tom Cole, Finn Watts, Dan Milne, Mike Ellington, Lewis Watson, Neil Pritchett, Chris Roper, Kev Nelson, Clark Sutherland, Katie May, Will Clarke


Tucked away on the northeast coast of Scotland, Aberdeenshire might not be the first place to spring into your mind when you think of Scottish riding destinations. The likes of the Tweed Valley, Fort William and Torridon have traditionally been the more “fashionable” locations to head to but over the past few years… but the winds of change have been blowing. Aberdeenshire is flanked by the rugged Cairngorm mountains and the North Sea whilst the Dee and Don rivers run right through its heart, a topography which conveniently lends itself rather nicely to the passing of mountain bike tires. From meaty Munro mountain missions to local enduro laps and everything in between, Aberdeenshire has a wide variety of trails to cater to an abundance of tastes and abilities.

The region has benefited from a passionate local riding community which has put in the hard graft to create the great network of riding which exists today, but making trails is one thing, making sure they’re sustainable is another problem in itself. Luckily the locals are switched on and in 2018 the Aberdeenshire Trail Association was set up to do just that - building harmonious relationships with local landowners and making sure trails are looked after in the correct way. With the legacy of Aberdeenshire’s trails already being looked after I can only see it continuing to blossom into one of the UK’s finest riding destinations.


Ballater

Our first stop was the picturesque village of Ballater which might well be the jewel in Royal Deeside’s crown, it’s an absolute must. The Queen’s holiday house Balmoral Castle is just down the road but it’s the iconic “Heartbreak Ridge” which has been drawing mountain bikers here over the last few years and once you’re up top it’s not hard to see why! We met up with Tom from the Aberdeenshire Trail Association and Finn and Dan from CycleHighlands, the local bike shop in Ballater. After pedalling through the quaint village we then got stuck into the close to 500 metre climb in the midst of a Scottish summer heatwave. After passing a bothy we traversed across the open moorland with Ballater far below us, eventually reaching a cairn which marked the top of the trail. The trail is a flat out blast through the heather with some monstrous granite rock slabs thrown in for good measure before it eventually weaves its way into the pines. “Heartbreak Ridge” somehow has a big mountain adventure feel to it when in reality you’re not really straying too far from Ballater. The only heartbreak we found was when the 4km descent ended! Those looking for more riding can lap themselves silly on the more traditional enduro style tracks on the hills either side of the village, we’d definitely recommend checking out “Mastermind”. Be sure to sample the ice cream from Shorty’s before departing!

The quaint and quiet street of Ballater, the first stop on our Aberdeenshire riding trip.

There's no better way to explore new trails than by following the wheel tracks of local riders.

Pedalling through Ballater and beginning the just shy of 500 metre climb to the top of Heartbreak Ridge.

Stormy Scottish summer skies.

The view from the bothy as you finish the climb and begin traversing across the moorland.

Looking down into the Dee valley with Ballater nestled amongst the hills.
The boys catch their breath before dropping into the awesome Heartbreak Ridge descent.



Ben Cathro with his work cut out trying to keep on the wheel of local ripper Finn Watts.

The views from the open hillside are so incredible it's hard to keep focussed on the track!

The big granite slabs are a bit of a novelty to Scots more used to a softer and wetter surface.


The ice cream from Shorty's is highly recommended - try out the Ballater creme.

Rumour has it that Santa Cruz based their paint colour on the old Ballater train station...

Ballater mountain biking trails


Scolty, Banchory

Following the meanders of the river Dee downstream we arrived in Banchory to tackle the steep and technical enduro trails of Scolty Hill which sits proudly overlooking the village. After a hearty breakfast and caffeine hit at the Coffee Bothy we pedalled along the street to link up with the boys from 20Twenty bike shop who were our tour guides for the day. On the climb up you’re taunted by quick glimpses of trail which will have you impatiently pedalling your way to the top. Thankfully, it’s an easy enough hill to lap! Will (who put in all the hard work organising this trip for us!) described Scolty as an enduro rider’s paradise and he certainly wasn’t wrong. Roots, rock slabs and general tech lay in wait for anyone wanting to sample Scolty’s delights. It was great to have some local lines to follow and drag us up to speed through the day. Some personal highlights were “Squamish” “Corona Time” and “Dee Drop”, the latter rather conveniently spitting you out right by the river ready for a refreshing dip.


Thanks to Mike and Lewis from Twenty20 bike shop for guiding as around their local hill.

Pedalling alongside the River Dee was a nice way to warm up before the real climb up Scolty Hill began.

The climb is a nice gradient and is easy enough to lap to your hearts content.

Scolty certainly isn't lacking in tech...

Ben Cathro tweaking off one of many rock features.


Local lad Neil Pritchett was flying on the Scolty trails.

Granite rock slabs seem to be a staple around Aberdeenshire.

Entering Squamish, of sorts...


The final flurry before reaching the banks of the River Dee once more. These turns were too good!

A quick dip to refresh after another sunny and sweaty day on the bike.

It would be rude not to stop by Lost Loch Spirits to sample their gin.


Scolty mountain biking trails


Aboyne

After watching Cathro successfully toss the caber we headed for Balfour Forest to sample some of the slightly mellower and flowier options that Aberdeenshire has to offer - a refreshing contrast to the previous two days along with the weather which played to Scotland’s cliches. After a pleasant spin through the mist we arrived at the top of “Chutney”, another trail which the Aberdeenshire Trail Association has taken under its wing. It was interesting to hear from Will how they’d been working with the landowner on trail changes that have stopped potential conflicts and issues from arising. After a brief open section up top the trail then ebbs and flows through the narrow corridors of a pine forest, it was distinctly like nothing else we’d ridden so far and we all had some big grins on our faces after riding something fast and flowy. There’s plenty to choose from in Aboyne with lengthy descents and technical trails too in and around Birsemore and Glen Tanar. It’s got a lot to offer, particularly when it comes to catering for a wide range of abilities. The day was finished off by sampling the tasty treats at Spider on a Bicycle, a cafe in Station Square - well worth checking out for a pre or post ride fuel up.


A quick caber toss to loosen off for the day of riding ahead.

Heading into the pines of Balfour forest just outside of Aboyne.

The misty conditions were a nice contrast after the previous two days of sweltering sun.

Katie May showing us how it's done on the rocks at the top of "Chutney".

The long tunnels of trees we were blasting through made the trail feel even faster.


The trails in Balfour forest were a bit faster and flowier compared to what we'd ridden over the previous two days.

The Spider on a Bicycle cafe in Aboyne went down very well after our ride.


Aboyne mountain biking trails


Pitfichie

The trails of Pitfichie have a special place in Scottish downhill racing history, not least with Pinkbike’s very own Ben Cathro who was quick to remind everyone possible about his previous wins there… After Cathro took us on a trip down memory lane on the original granite laced downhill track we were then joined by Chris from Ride in Peace Adventures, Kev from Aberdeenshire Trail Association and Clark from Bennachie Bike Bothy for a sunset lap from the top of White Hill. The lengthy Scottish summer days are somewhat of a novelty and something to be savoured, allowing you to ride late into the evening should you desire. Pitfichie has an extensive network of trails and given its proximity to Aberdeen - the airport is round twenty minutes away - is one of the most popular riding spots in the region. After watching the sun colourfully sink out of sight from atop Whitehill we departed the moorland and dived back into the trees via a teeth chattering and rim dinging rock garden. There’s nothing better than charging down a ribbon of singletrack in clouds of dust, jeering and cheering at each other’s riding antics as we skid back into the carpark in near enough darkness. Aberdeenshire had spoiled us and our final fling certainly did not disappoint.


A quick trip to Bennachie Bike Bothy before hitting the trails.

Cathro enjoying getting back up to speed on the original Pitfichie downhill track.

Heading up for a sunset lap with Chris Roper and Kev Nelson.

Leaving the treeline and heading out onto the moor.


There's nothing better than a golden hour lap!

Kev Nelson heads for home as the sun sinks towards the horizon.

The lengthy Scottish summer evenings are something to savour.

Thank you to North East Adventure Tourism and Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland for the amazing hospitality in Aberdeenshire.

Pitfichie mountain biking trails


Local Knowledge


Getting here:

Aberdeen can be reached by road, rail, sea or air and when you get here Aberdeenshire is easily accessible by public transport, car or bike. Aberdeen International airport has daily flights from many major airports including London Heathrow, Paris and Amsterdam. The airport also has many direct routes to most UK cities as well as many key European destinations served by EasyJet, British Airways and KLM amongst others. Trains arrive hourly from Glasgow and Edinburgh or use the east coast line to travel from cities such as York or Newcastle. Scotrail provides an express rail service direct to Aberdeen from many major cities. For timetables and to book your train tickets to Aberdeen visit the Scotrail website. Aberdeen can also be reached overnight from London on the Caledonian Sleeper. As the gateway to the Highlands, and only a 2.5 hours’ drive to Edinburgh or Glasgow, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are also the perfect point to start your Scottish road trip.

The Climate & Wildlife:

Aberdeenshire is a generally dry climate with significantly less rainfall than many other parts of the UK. Summers are mild and winters can be cold with snowfall. The climate and unique natural landscape make the region an ideal habitat for a variety of wildlife. Visitors should be aware that there are numerous Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Nature Reserves and protected species sharing the landscape with riders.

Local Mountain Biking Groups:

Aberdeenshire Trail Association work with many landowners across the region focusing on volunteer trail maintenance, trail advocacy and developing the trail network. Since forming in 2018 they have secured 10’s of thousands of pounds to invest into the local network and contributed over 10,000 hours of volunteer time with tools on the trails. Get in touch, follow or donate to ATA via their website.

Bike shop and repairs:

Aberdeenshire is well stocked with friendly independent bike shops. If you find yourself in Ballater Cyclehighlands can provide everything from an inner tube to a demo bike from their Santa Cruz range. In Aboyne Aberdeenshire Bicycle Works have everything to cover trail riding and adventure riding stocking and hiring a full range of bikepacking gear alongside a healthy mix of mountain bikes. Banchory has several bike shops to choose from whether it be custom build enduro specialists at 20Twenty or road and e-bike experts at REM Bikes . If you find yourself exploring the vast Donside trail network Bennachie Bike Bothy is the one stop shop for route advice, dream builds and last minute spares! In the south of the region close to the Drumtochty trail network you’ll find Bike Remedy in their new headquarters set up to cater for all riders.

Guiding:

Aberdeenshire has a whole host of trails and adventures but some extra local knowledge is key to making the most of your trip - As well as the hugely helpful shops and trail association guides from Ride in Peace Adventures, e-Guide Scotland and Macdui Adventures can help plan your ideal route or multi day trip!

Food and Drink:

Ballater: Rock Salt and Snails, Shortys Ice Cream, Sheridans Butcher.
Aboyne: Spider on a Bicycle Café and Boat Inn Pub.
Banchory: The Coffee Bothy & The Douglas Arms, RIDE Coffee House.

Must Dos:

The Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire region is famous for its dramatic coastlines, 263 castles and rolling landscapes of Royal Deeside. But that’s just the beginning. Awash with a fascinating history, vibrant street art colours the Aberdeen city streets, with numerous festivals and performances year round drawing visitors and locals to see world class artists. The newly refurbished Aberdeen Art Gallery is a must visit. Those in search of luxury need look no further - the region is home to five Michelin Guide restaurants, traditional whisky and modern gin distilleries and BrewDog – leaders of the craft beer revolution while The Fife Arms in Braemar was recently named The Sunday Times UK ‘hotel of the year’! The region has also inspired literary classics and hosted Hollywood blockbusters and Netflix series. From Bram Stoker to Walt Disney, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire has helped creative movie magic.




Regions in Article
Aberdeenshire


85 Comments

  • 49 0
 Nothing to see here, it's all shite.

youtu.be/xCtPBFHKSNg

Stay away
  • 1 0
 thanks, great one
  • 5 0
 Looks like a great place - I only wish I could speak Scottish!
  • 2 0
 I'm with blinkie on this one, stay away, or the midgies will get ye
  • 1 0
 That was rad! Place looks very cool. I'd love to see more of these videos.
  • 43 2
 Was so sick to be a part of this, cheers for the opportunity guys!
  • 6 0
 so much potential up there , amazing job showcasing it and the trail associations work , almost felt like u were in canada for a weeee min
  • 32 11
 When did that "Outside" header show up on the top of every single page? Today? And why only on this site in their slew of bike sites.
  • 13 5
 I JUST noticed it this morning too. Frick man. You see the Outside+ on people's names too? The virus is spreading... slowly.
  • 8 2
 Yesterday, use uBlock origin to get rid of it! I did the same with the Outside+ tag.
  • 24 29
flag ream720 (Sep 28, 2021 at 10:35) (Below Threshold)
 insufferable whining babies ffs
  • 13 0
 @ream720: Well, when you were 13 years old and Pinkbike and nsmb were where you would go to find local photos, sick videos and chat with others in the community and to see where it is going, today. Ya, it's bitter-sweet. It's always felt like a community, community, community and I have an irking feeling we're on track to lose a lot of that. It is what it is and it is a business first, I get that. But ya, I guess 18 years of getting the goods on here is plenty and we'll see how it evolves.
  • 10 10
 @thedevilwearsrapha: It's almost like Outside bought PB or something.
  • 3 0
 @pb-kg: first I've heard of it
  • 5 1
 I didn't think seeing that would be as much a bummer as it was. For some reason it just really let the air out of my sails.

While anxious about the selling of PB to Outside, I still held high hopes of good things to come from, and for, the staff and Pinkbike. I still do. However, I've never associated Outside with anything 'good', and seeing their lame logo at the top of the page was a *huge* let down today. Oof.
  • 7 0
 @thedevilwearsrapha: It's exactly like that. And we've seen it time and time again. A ton of action sports media outlets got bought out by some big brand in San Diego or whatever and the company got into legal issues or something and froze a bunch of assets (ie websites) during the investigation, laid a bunch of people off, gave them no resource for acquiring the asset back from the company, and killed a few outlets such as Ride BMX.

These big companies are volatile as f*ck, ironically given the concept of stability in size and money. It would be lovely if PB stayed more by rider, for rider... But the reality is we know which way the wind blows. And we'll be lucky enough if it doesn't get completely changed/removed in 10 years time if situations change at Outside HQ...
  • 7 8
 the difference is that outdoor has been published since 1977 and is otherwise reputable. you're using some whataboutism to justify being upset for literally no reason at all. nothing on PB has changed. no paywalls. same good content. you are the only people ruining the comments with your ceaseless crybabying about some visual differences, being bitter toward people who have the outside+ tag, etc. just shut up until things are actually worth complaining about.
  • 7 0
 @ream720: It just sucks when formerly independent brands get all bought up by the same company. I just went to register for an Enduro and what do you know, BikeReg is now part of Outside. Maybe they will be good about it and keep things independent and interesting, but there is also the worry that things will get stale and no longer unique.
  • 2 2
 @ream720: No you.
  • 3 0
 It's growing bigger each day I swear.
  • 1 0
 @ream720: How long have you been on PinkBike?
  • 20 0
 Wow, Ben brings sunshine wherever he goes.
  • 9 0
 Because to us “Pinkers” the sun shines out of his arse Smile
  • 27 15
 Aberdeenshire - nice scenery and trails, shame about all the Tory voting wankers though.
  • 4 3
 That's all changing as the oil bubble is bursting. House prices in Aberdeen have plummeted in recent years.
  • 3 0
 @redrook: Lol, some downvotes from Aberdeen homeowners. Sorry guys but it's the truth. I know people in negative equity on their homes in Aberdeen right now, which is the opposite of everywhere else in the country. Maybe if you hadn't voted Tory you would've seen some diversification from an obviously doomed industry. But they don't care about you, no matter how much the Mail and Torygraph tell you that they do Wink
  • 11 1
 Great piece and some epic shots, good to see Aberdeen getting the showcase it deserves.
  • 9 1
 Ben needs to run for PM, and make biking mandatory.
  • 4 0
 Can't think of anything worse than 'mandatory' biking for the population.
  • 1 2
 @pen9-wy: oh yes you're right, fun, exercise, the great outdoors, "shudder". You may as well stay on the couch and continue to underestimate your country.
  • 8 0
 Never knew you were such a big tosser Ben!
  • 3 0
 Very mush regretting moving away right now! The hype is real and this just shows a glimpse of the riding to be had in the Dee valley not forgetting big classic hike a bikes in the Cairngorms. Nae bad.
  • 2 1
 @qivittoq Moved to Brunei in July after 20 years of living and riding in Aberdeenshire. I feel your pain. Aberdeen has its issues though and not even the best trails in Scotland can paper over the cracks.
  • 3 1
 Nice mix of trails there. Also happened to get a Hope BB from Twenty20 during one of the many English lockdowns, nowhere else seemed to have one, and down to Liverpool in about 2 days. Plus the obligatory shop stickers that get put straight onto the laptop.
  • 2 0
 I packaged that Big Grin
  • 2 0
 @neilpritchett: Ta very much, la!
  • 1 0
 Loved the video - lived up there for 7 or so years - beautiful area, but ironically I didn't start riding until I left... missing it now, and especially so I'm living over in the US (although we have some decent riding here too!) - but I'll never love the butteries!!!!
  • 3 0
 Scolty and Ballater and amazing, some of the best riding I have done in the UK!
  • 2 0
 that was a badass step-up into a manual at 10:45!....also, is it common to just find cabers lying around in sport fields in Scotland???
  • 24 0
 We don't leave them lying around, like in the USA you can get a concealed carry permit to take it around with you
  • 1 0
 Fantastic piece! Shoutout to Ross Bell for the great shots, some beauties in there. You should sell prints of Cathro eating an ice cream--that needs to go above my workbench, heh.
  • 2 0
 Great piece Cathro and crew. This place really resonates with me. Riding and vibe seem incredible. Now I just the $ for an across the pond bike trip.
  • 2 0
 Such an amazing track heart break ridge and all the other spots. The towns and food etc is also amazing. Great work.
  • 2 0
 The music makes me feel like i'm watching a call of duty trailer from 2011.
  • 3 2
 Must go one day as I hear great things about ballater but it's so far away to go there. I mean. 2 hours, you know how many trails we have to pass to travel 2 hours!
  • 2 0
 Well worth it though, had an all too short weekend of exploring the trails up there a few years back. I'm sure I ended up with that same photo out of the bothy window too!
  • 4 0
 I used to think 2hrs was a huge distance too before I moved to NZ
  • 4 0
 The canned guitar is bad
  • 1 0
 This makes me homesick! Banchory boy now living in Oregon, makes me want to head home and get out with my Dad and Brother who still live and ride in the area.
  • 1 0
 Spent some time this summer riding most of the trails they are riding. Also had great weather. Makes me want to go back. Great video
  • 1 0
 So I’m going to say it. Someone needs to give Ben full a full factory ride. Stand up guy, great content and as proven in WV pretty damn fast.
  • 1 0
 PB needs to send Ben everywhere! He seems like the coolest dude to ride with and you would see some sick lines. Him and Phil with Skills would be a proper show!
  • 1 0
 Always known 'Chutney' as 'Chutney Nudger'. In fact everybody calls it Chutney Nudger, and it's Chutney Nudger in STRAVA etc. Odd.
  • 1 0
 Nice video. Got to spend 6 months up in Deeside in 2018, amazing riding, brings back memories
  • 2 0
 Aboyne has cracking trails same with scolty great to see them on here
  • 2 0
 Always wear your helmet in the Ice Cream Parlour, kids.
  • 3 1
 Ma home town, big up the Aberdream crew, nice edit lads
  • 2 0
 Och aye!
  • 2 0
 Great photography!
  • 1 0
 What a nice place! Believe the dry conditions are rather rare?
  • 1 0
 Never rains in Scotland, thats what Clark from Bennachie Bike Bothy tells me anyway.
  • 1 0
 Dry dusty trails are not as rare in the NE as other parts of Scotland and the UK but we try to keep quiet about it. This article has just blown that out of the water though :o)
  • 1 0
 Is that a big spider on his helmet at 5.44?
  • 2 1
 Corona time straight to a river swim is the stuff of dreams at Scolty!
  • 1 0
 Add in a couple of beers stashed prior to the ride and yeah, it's a fab way to end a Scolty ride.
  • 5 4
 How do we get the Outside banner removed?
  • 2 2
 Go to a website not owned by Outside maybe??
  • 4 1
 FFS stop being a crying school child and get over it
  • 1 0
 Great advert for the places, I certainly want to go now!
  • 1 0
 I want to go to there. -Liz Lemon
  • 2 2
 Between the riding, the distilleries and the breweries, I'm sure I could spend a couple of months touring Scotland.
  • 1 0
 This made me want to emigrate...
  • 2 2
 Perfect timing. I move up to Scotland next week, and now I have some initial ride info to get me started. Cheers again Ben.
  • 1 0
 Good stuff, I enjoyed that, the town and trails look sweet.
  • 2 2
 I wouldn't eat those blueberries if I was you
  • 1 0
 Why not?
  • 3 0
 Blaeberry/Bilberry perfectly safe and tasty to eat.
  • 3 0
 @jemima: Local wee spot Wink
  • 2 0
 @jenksy: Well that makes sense! When my kids are after blaeberries I always encourage them to at least not eat the ones right beside the path that dogs could easily piss on! Great fruit when its not pissy though!
  • 1 0
 @jenksy: hahaha don't worry he went welll off the trail for that very reason!
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